N.M. loves animals. That’s what her zines are about, whenever she makes them, which is infrequently. And even then she only produces 5 or 6 copies, for random friends, whom she knows will enjoy her stories of squirrels, or ducklings, or underwater creatures. N.M. operates in a realm that’s removed from other zinesters, which is why I was so thrilled to find her.
I guest spoke to the class of college freshmen she teaches, and when it was done N.M. said, “Let me buy you a drink, as thanks.” So we made plans for that weekend. In the days leading up to it, I started getting so nervous. Here is a real artist, I thought. She isn’t impressed by my self-indulgent personal zine. She doesn’t care about facebook, or cultivate an online presence. What do I have going for me?
But then we really hit it off. At the bar I asked her something that had been on my mind a lot recently. “If I asked you to name a piece of fruit,” I said, “what would it be?”
N.M. thought, and then took out her sketchbook. She drew an apple.
“Exactly!” I said. “Now what about a house?” I drew a box with a triangle on top, then a door with windows on either side.
“Don’t forget the chimney,” N.M. said.
We both drew telephones circa 1985, with curly cords and carriages. I asked N.M. if she had ever actually used a phone like that.
“I think my dad still has one.”
“It fascinates me how we have these collective prototypes for things,” I said. “And they don’t necessarily match up to what we see every day. If I were to draw a dog, for example…”
N.M. sketched a medium-sized, floppy-eared guy with a wagging tail: a beagle, more or less.
“That is a very doggy dog. Even though it looks different than my dog at home.”
“Every flower is a daisy,” N.M. said. “Every dinosaur is a Brontosaurus. Even though there was no such thing as a brontosaurus.”
We sat in the moment, until a guy announced that trivia was starting. N.M. and I were still caught up in doodling, so we covered our answer sheet with prototypic fish, cars, trees, and furniture. When he announced the results from round one, speaking of me and N.M., the quizmaster said, “This team not only got no answers correct, they didn’t even come up with a name for themselves!” Everyone laughed.
Back at N.M.’s apartment, she sat very close to me on the couch. The nervousness came back, and I asked her, “Is there a guitar in that case? Do you mind if I play?”
“You’ll have to open it up to see,” N.M. said.
There was an acoustic guitar in there, indeed. As I strummed, N.M. accompanied me by playing a cassette tape of whale sounds. It was kind of magical.
Shortly after this, I noticed how late it was, and stood up to leave. N.M. said, “Wait a second.” She grabbed her camera and held it very near to my face. “I want to get a picture of you. I like taking extreme close-ups.”
She took the photo and remained where she was standing, our faces just inches apart. And the thought came to me: this is exactly what my prototype of a crush looks like. This is a first non-date exactly. The decision now isn’t, do I kiss her or don’t I, because the whole scene exists already in my head. It will proceed exactly how I think, no need to stress out about it.
So that’s what I did.